This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images, and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is rooted in appreciation, gratitude, and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
“Listen!” and “See!” were central instructions that Jesus, in his ministry, left to his disciples and those of us who have followed. “Discipleship,” in secular language, can be paralleled with “leadership.” For those called to leadership, whether willingly embraced or begrudgingly accepted, listening and seeing are extremely important, if not key, components that determine thriving for both individuals and communities.
Appreciative Inquiry, in its 30+-year journey, has evolved and matured. Where once it might have been framed as a set of tools or processes that affect change from a strength-based perspective, the understanding has been shifting or expanding from particular models (i.e. 4-D, 5-D, SOAR) to now including a philosophical orientation. This expansion has become more apparent in the Emergent Principles, of which this particular musing is the fourth of five (see Tab above to explore previous blogs).
Awareness, which complements other contemporary ideas/practices such as mindfulness, self-knowing, reflexivity, is an anchor to the import of AI’s philosophical underpinning. Though some applications of the practice speak simply to the efficiency that is derived from the benefits a leader acquires as one immerses in the practice of awareness (as is expressed in some of the videos below), AI reminds both practitioner and communities of faith of a richer awakening. When adopted philosophically, there arises an awareness of a more holistic connexion between the individual and the corporate, leadership and the collective. In this awakening, wisdom is discovered by an organisation, such as a business, NGO, church, or any organisation in which people gather around shared values and goals.
It has been my experience that both faith communities and those who incorporate AI, whether practically or philosophically, confront what is referred to as the “Pollyanna Effect.” Often this challenge contends that there is a focus on the superficial “well-being”,” while diminishing or altogether ignoring the difficult realities.
The Pollyanna charge serves to distract from the work that is required for people to offer leadership that helps nurture a sense of innovation or creativity. This distraction arises on account that whether it be the Christian tradition, which encompasses experiences such as persecution and marginalisation, or the application of AI in such places as South Africa during apartheid or in Israel/Palestine, neither deny the difficult realities confronted. They, nonetheless, recognise that where we focus our attention is what we will see. If solutions or healing, therefore, are what are sought, what works and where care can be offered are more effective than blame or repeating cycles of harm and hurt.
In a Christian context of leadership, “innovation” and “creativity” includes enabling faith communities to take seriously that each person’s particular gifts and skills help the collective do that which individually would not be possible. Whether a group intends to make the best product, to advocate for justice or to offer care to those who are rejected, such endeavours require a shared purpose.
By embracing a shared sense of purpose, what the Christian tradition might understand as Call, a community that listens and watches learns by challenging and interrogating assumptions. By cultivating a culture of “Listen!” and “See!” it awakens a community to recognise that change is, in fact, normative. In this recognition, therefore, Christian discipleship taps into a historic tradition that reminds contemporary communities of faith that, for most of its long journey, it has been adrift in constantly changing tides and currents. In this place of continuous change, the community has, is and will be better able to adaptively offer care and nimbly respond to continue its sense of Call in creative ways.